Author Mitzi VanCleve shares her own personal story of experiencing anxiety, panic attacks, and OCD and ultimately, how God has used these things for good in her own life.
- Obsessions Mitzi experienced even as a young child
- Experiences of mental health stigma from Christians
- Learning about panic attacks from a magazine article
- Mitzi’s experience with scrupulosity OCD
- Acting as if
- How she used used imaginal exposure to help treat her OCD
- How she made the decision to take mental health medication as a Christian
- Wrestling with God about having OCD
- How church leaders can support individuals experiencing OCD
Verses discussed: Psalm 13, 2 Cor 1:4-5, 2 Cor 12
Welcome to Hope for Anxiety and OCD Episode 13. Today, I’m sharing an interview with author Mitzi VanCleve. She shares her own personal journey of diagnosis, treatment and interactions with the church in regards to dealing with panic attacks, anxiety and OCD. I’ve found her story to be incredibly hopeful in terms of how we can grow closer to God through struggles in our lives. So let’s dive in.
Transcript Of Episode 13
Carrie: When did you start to have symptoms of OCD?
Mitzi: Well, that really started even as far back as when I was a toddler. I know that sounds surprising. The only thing I can say about that is in my childhood right up until I was quite old, I never understood a lot of what I was experiencing was actually OCD. The first thing that I can go back and look at is really long-held obsessional fears and themes. The very first one was it was sort of unusual as OCD things are. It was a fear of being flushed down the toilet and the sphere was so intense that I would not use the big toilet until I was five years old and I was forced to go to kindergarten.
Even as a small child, three years old, four years old, I could sit there and watch a toilet being flushed, look at the hole in the bath and the toilet and say, “well, I can’t fit through there,” but it didn’t make any difference. My brain had just decided this was the thing to be afraid of and from there, once I got past that one, there was health obsessions. I remember, a really long period of time where I heard about the idea of swallowing your tongue and that just drove me nuts. I worried about it, wondered how that can happen. I ask my parents about it. I would forget about it while I was playing then when I go to bed at night it would come back and that’s when I would really struggle like the times when I didn’t have anything to do. So there was a lot of weird themes and health obsessions.
By the age of 10 is when I first developed some obsessions related to self-harm. That just started with hearing about a form of not self-harm, but just a form of harm that could happen to a person. I don’t want to really go into the details. Sometimes it’s a little bit hard to explain specifically obsessions in details because it can get a little graphic and upsetting that people who don’t have OCD don’t really understand.
Why would you think that? And so this morphed from my fear of this thing happening to me to actually doing it to myself, like losing control and harming myself. That just went on and on and on for the longest time. There was something in me that knew these things weren’t at all logical and so they scared me so much.
I wouldn’t really tell my parents. I would exhibit symptoms of anxiety. I would have nausea. I would get up in the night shaking and feeling like I needed to vomit and things like that. I was afraid to, especially about the harming thing, I was afraid to verbalize that as a kid, but that’s where it started.
It became more debilitating after the birth of my children. After the birth of my second child, I developed panic disorder. Not knowing what that was I always struggled with social anxiety and just your basic kinds of anxiety disorders as a kid, but I didn’t know such a thing existed.
I never heard about OCD, anxiety disorders, panic disorder. Those words were foreign to me. I only heard about crazy people. There’s a thing where there’s a stigma and even as a child, the stigma was there. That idea that I might be crazy was terrifying to me and so when the panic attacks started, that felt like I was going crazy.
My first one was not nocturnal. I was falling asleep and I woke up with a panic attack and that happened to me a lot. It still does sometimes. I just know what it is now. That combined with that old harming obsession, the panic attack, the feeling of I’m losing my mind. I’m losing control. The derealization, that deep personal personalization that you feel at that moment makes you feel like you aren’t going to be able to control yourself. That combined with the harming themes. After the birth of my children, the harming thing switched from me, hurting me, going crazy, and possibly hurting one of my children in a really awful way and that was just so debilitating. I can’t even begin to describe how awful it was.
Carrie: The hard thing about OCD thing is that the themes do shift. As you get older or go through different developmental stages in life. It seems like once you have a handle on one theme, sometimes another theme will then pop up.
Mitzi: Oh, yes, it’s very true about OCD. That’s why it’s important to understand how the disorder operates, how to get on top of a theme before it gets on top of you.
And then it grows too big and large. It gets kind of stuck in your head. I do try to tell people that there’s physical symptoms with this too when you’re going through this. For me, some of the things I experienced during that really bad season, which was a very long season of unharmosity was an inability to eat.
I struggled to get calories down. I’m five foot eight. I dropped to 114 pounds. People thought I was anorexic. It had nothing to do with anorexia. I just was nauseous. The anxiety was so bad. I couldn’t sleep. And of course, if you have an anxiety disorder and you’re not eating and you’re not sleeping, that makes things even worse because that level of physical stress on your body is going to make a disorder worse. So that was what it was like and how it was like for me before I knew it was wrong.
Carrie: I’m curious about what your parents thought. Did your parents just think like, “Oh, she’s really nervous a lot, or she’s kind of an anxious child” or they had no idea everything that was going on in your head?
They didn’t. There were some people in my family, distant relatives who had struggles which caused them to even not want to leave their house and things like that. My mom would talk about that and she would say, “You know, you’re going to end up like that” but she didn’t really know what was going on.
I know my mom, there were like reassurances, which is a usual reaction for a parent to do that. A lot of times it manifested just as me being sickly. When I was struggling with certain health obsessions, I would get very, just like I described
sick to my stomach and I would lose weight. And so they were taking me to the doctor and try to figure out what was wrong but it was being approached like it was a physical issue. A lot of this just due to the fact that I didn’t verbalize a lot of the OCD themes, but even if I had, I’m not sure there would have been enough knowledge back then for my parents to know what was going on because that was in the 60’s when I was growing up. I think the information and knowledge and understanding about what OCD is and how it operates has come a long way since then.
Carrie: Right and hopefully also our physicians and pediatricians are also able to recognize a little bit better when they’re seeing some symptoms that potentially could be anxiety in a child, which often presents more as physical ailments.
Mitzi: I will share that when I got really, really bad with the harming OCD and the panic attacks, they were just relentless. I lost count. I have no idea how many I would have in a day or in the evening. At that point, I did open up to my mom. I began to know, “okay, this obviously is something to do with a mental health issue.” And so all I can think of was I probably need to see a psychiatrist and so I needed to share that with him, somebody. I had talked to my husband very little about it, just a little bit and I opened up with my mom. Growing up as a Christian and in a lot of Christians, there was that stigma [00:10:30] especially back then that Christians don’t have mental health issues. And so as I was sharing with her, I thought it might be a good idea for me to see a psychiatrist. She was really upset about it and she talked about faith and then she said something that was really hard, “that’s just for weak people.”
It was hard because it put the brakes on my pursuing that at the time, and I did pursue it still, but I didn’t get a diagnosis. The person I saw didn’t have any clue and he was relating things to stress and it, again, faith and, and it just I got nowhere.
Carrie: Okay. So you did see a psychiatrist, but they weren’t able to help you with that?
Mitzi: No, he just and of course, some of the scary obsessional themes, I didn’t verbalize them. I talked about anxiety and I talked about the panic attacks. I didn’t hit that word though. Just this is what’s happening and tried to describe it. So it wasn’t a good experience and it didn’t help me, sadly.
Carrie: Yeah, that’s unfortunate when people do reach out for help and then they find somebody that isn’t familiar maybe with OCD, or doesn’t quite know how to help them navigate through that process.
So what was that process of getting the help that you needed?
Mitzie: The first help that I got was really for the panic disorder and that was interesting.
I, I believe that during the time of my praying through this and asking God for help and just feeling so desperate that God came through. At that time I was still struggling. I was pregnant again, that tells you how long I was still struggling tremendously and I had become pregnant again.
I was about four months pregnant. I was at my aunt and uncle’s cottage, my husband and my brothers, my family, and my aunts and uncles they were watching a TV show which I did not need to watch at that time. It was called “Alien” which you’ve heard of. It’s the perfect show if you’re struggling. I was trying to avoid watching it.
So I picked up a reader’s digest magazine and the words on the front of the magazine where they show the stories, one of them said panic disorder. It said it might not be what you think it is. Just the word panic struck a chord with me. I opened up this magazine and started reading the story of this woman who had panic disorder and it was me. I was reading about myself and they listed all the symptoms of a panic attack and I had all of them. I finally had an answer for that. And so at the time, I was pregnant and I really couldn’t implement meds and things like that. I just started working on things like breathing techniques.
After I delivered, I started doing really intensive aerobic exercise. I was jogging four and five miles a day, and I gradually getting healthier which eventually took me into a period where the disorder waned. It wasn’t as bad as it had been, but that’s when I learned just about panic disorder. I didn’t have any idea about OCD and so that kind of wax and wane on and off throughout the rest of my life up until the age of 50.
Carrie: So I think your story is very similar to other people’s in terms of a lot of times there’s a big gap between when people start to have symptoms and when they even find out this is actually OCD they’re experiencing because they feel ashamed of the symptoms. They feel ashamed of the thoughts, or they feel like, “okay, this sounds really crazy and nobody’s going to understand it or believe it, or they’re going to lock me up somewhere if I tell someone that I’m having these thoughts especially related to harm.”
Mitzi: Yes. What you say about they’re gonna lock me up somewhere was a genuine fear of mine because I couldn’t understand why I was having the thoughts to start with. For me to share that with somebody, they’re going to be like, “You really are dangerous.” Sometimes I would think maybe that would be good because then my kids will be safe. That’s how awful it is. You feel like your brain is telling you this is something that you should be afraid of this thought. I say it’s almost like you have a phobic response to the thoughts that you’re having and you’re having to live with them in your head.
If it’s a spider or something, you can just run away from it. Once it’s a thought in your head, it’s there. All that you’re doing to try to get rid of it makes it worse. Of course it did with me because I didn’t know it was OCD and I didn’t know what to do about it. It was at the age of fifty.
Carrie: So at the age of 50, what happened?
Mitzi: I had already been struggling. I was going back through a flare of anxiety and panic attacks because there’d been a lot of stress in our life. I’m not going to go into all the details, there were a lot of changes, big life changes. One on disability moves, just lots of changes, lots of uncertainty.
And so I didn’t notice it for a while, but it was kind of too late by the time I did start to say, Oh no, you know, I’m going back through this again. I was having panic attacks. I was starting to have obsessions about my health again, related to stuff that normally I would just brush off.
That’s how OCD is It’s always looking for a target, something to be upset about. During that time, I was praying again, reading my Bible, doing all the things I normally do as a Christian to try to receive information from God about what I can do about this. How can I help myself, but also just gain comfort. And I got a lot of comfort from the songs, even back when I was in my twenties, because I saw in there things that described how I was feeling.
My son also gave me some sermons on tape and he said, “These are really good, Mom.” We always share things like this. So I put one of those sermons in. It was actually on it on a CD. I was doing dishes, I was trying to stay very busy and distracted. This particular pastor was talking about our struggles with sin. As Christians and I understood. It wasn’t new to me that as Christians, we will still be fighting sin our whole life. It’s not something that we’re cured of. It’s something we’re aware of. We’re made aware of when we become a Christian and we have a desire to please our Savior. So we work continually towards pleasing him through obedience. He finally says this one statement, which I don’t even know why he said it in the middle of the sermon. He says, “If you call yourself a Christian but you’re still all the time struggling and sinning as strongly with sin, you really might want to think, are you really a Christian? In the past I would have been like, “yeah, of course.” This time my brain just latched onto that. It was like, wait a minute. What if he’s right? What if all this time, all these years, I thought I was a Christian I’m not. And what if the reason I struggle with this thing, whatever it is is because of that. It just was like a dam broke open and the intrusive thoughts related to that, just pour it out just one after another.
I just began this war with it. It was a mental 24/7, every minute I was awake, I couldn’t sleep and that was the new OCD thing, but I didn’t know it was OCD.
Carrie: No one’s ever had that before. It was a new theme.
Mitzi: Yeah. Until I was engaging with my compulsion. So by then, at this point in my life, of course, we had the internet and I was doing what’s called research, lots of Googling, researching around the topic of, “Am I still saved?,” doubting your salvation. I was reading all these articles about how we can know we are Christians and I would read them. It didn’t help. It didn’t make it go away.Suddenly one day I stumbled across a Christian forum that said doubting salvation and then it said, OCD. I was like, ”what?” That’s what I’m going through. Out of curiosity, I opened it and I started reading the posts from the people in this group
and it was amazing. It was just like the Reader’s Digest thing. I was reading my story. They were telling exactly what I had been going through. I was stunned and as I read more and more in this forum, and then I started going further out about OCD, what it is, how it manifests, what causes it. I had it and I had it since I was a kid and I never knew, and that opened up the door for me to finally have a way to manage this beast called OCD.
From there I began learning and learning more about ERP, about medications, about therapies like ACT. All the ways that this thing that I called “it”, this ugly “it,” for all these years, it had a name. I get tearful sometimes talking about it because God did answer my prayer.
He just didn’t answer in the way I was wanting. The way I was wanting was just take this thing away, whatever it is. He was pointing me to, “This is what it is, and this is what you can do.” It was just astonishing to me that I could live my whole life, basically until I was 50 years old and never have been able to get help.
There were so many long seasons of just debilitating, crippling suffering, and it was hard for me to believe, but just the relief, so overwhelming.
Carrie: We talked about that in an earlier episode with someone about how diagnosis itself can be a relief when you get a proper diagnosis. And then you can say, “okay, now that we know what we’re dealing with, what can we do about it?” “What’s our next step forward?
Mitzi: Exactly. Even after you get a diagnosis because OCD is OCD, it’s going to make you doubt but as you begin to bravely risk working with things like Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) therapy for me, it was brave when I was told, I probably needed to try some medications, but that was hard for me. Some of that was pride. Some of it was just because I have never taken anything like that before. What will it do to me? All the fears and that was a big struggle, but it’s so worth it because the alternative is staying stuck and doing the same thing over and over and not getting better and feeling worse.
I was determined just like with a panic disorder, I was like, “What can I do about this?” And I found out these things are effective. It was hard. It’s not like you began ERP and the next day, I’m all better. It’s a process. The longer you’ve been struggling with the theme, I think it’s a longer process. Your brain’s got this practice cycle of intrusive thought, anxiety response, compulsion, more intrusive thoughts, more anxiety, more compulsions. It’s a habit that needs to be undone and that takes time.
Carrie: Right. Did you get into therapy at that point?
Mitzi: I started going to a therapist and I think this is the hardest thing about OCD is being able to find a competent therapist. My therapist was good for dealing with basic anxiety disorders, like panic disorder, generalized anxiety, social anxiety, but when it came to OCD, she was asking me to apply basic cognitive behavioral therapy like you would for depression which would be to challenge the thoughts, to counter the thoughts into right logical reassurances.
Carrie: Which is exactly what you don’t want to do with OCD.
Mitzi: I started doing that and I got worse and I was like you know what, but there was one thing she offered up that was great and I still say it today, it’s act as if, and that’s part of the choice
part of OCD. OCD thoughts may be telling me this and telling me that, but I’m going to act as if these things aren’t true. And in the realm of Christianity and scrupulosity, even though my brain was telling me, “I think you might becoming an atheist.” I could say I’m going to act as if I’m a Christ follower. I’m going to do all the things that a Christ follower does even if my emotions will not validate that choice. That is my choice. So that aspect helped, the other was worse. So I pretty much learned on my own, I did visit some really good websites like ocdonline.com. Dr. Philippson. A lot of his work was just phenomenal to help me understand.
I learned about imaginal scripting, imaginal exposures, and I wrote them and did them and recorded them. I was able to learn that on my own, but a lot of people really do need a competent therapist because it takes a lot of grit and determination and courage to do ERP. I just think having a competent psychologist who’s trained to do these things and understands the disorder is something, unfortunately there just aren’t that many and a lot of it has to do with network, with insurance too, which was one of my biggest hurdles. I could not afford the counselors and the therapists that I needed to see. I had to go to the ones in network and even later on when I was going through a bumpy time with my OCD, after I knew what it was, I was just going through a really bumpy time.
I thought I could sure use someone right now and my therapist had passed and I called around and I would ask, or I would write. I know I communicated through email. I would say, “what do you know about ERP and ACT as far as treating OCD?” And they would say,” I don’t know what that is but I can help you with your OCD.” I’d be like, “Probably not.” So that’s a hard thing. That’s a really hard thing.
Carrie: It is hard because really, therapists would have to pursue training after their degree to specialize in OCD. And a lot of people don’t do that unless they have some type of personal connection or in my situation, I was working with a lot of people who just thought they had anxiety and then I was starting to see more OCD as I was starting to hear more about what they were actually worried about and struggling with. So that’s kind of how I got branched off into it, but I think a lot of therapists have not received further training on it.
I want to get in with you on the spiritual aspects, really of struggling with OCD. I know a lot of people who are struggling out there probably are praying prayers just like you pray, “God, this is awful. I feel terrible. I’m all tore up inside. Will you please just like touch my body and touch my mind and take this all away.” How did you work through some of that wrestling with God?
Mitzi: When I didn’t know I had OCD, I did a lot of that and it was a wrestling time. I thought during that time, maybe this was due to pass. Maybe there was something I needed to confess. So I would pour over everything I could think of and current things and confess for the OCD and the anxiety I would go through. I knew these verses, every verse related to worry, anxiety, all of those things.
I had most of that memorized. Anyway, I did understand what those things meant. What I didn’t understand was the difference. The Bible talks a lot about anxiety and worry, but if you look at those passages of scripture, you will see these are situational.
Worries and concerns, they’re about real-life trials and afflictions. It isn’t this always there’s a free-floating sense of dread and physical symptoms and everything of anxiety that can even be there when you aren’t even worried about anything. It’s like panic attacks, for instance. So that was confusing to me, but there was also a feeling because God wasn’t taking it away just miraculously. Maybe he’d abandoned me.
There’s a particular Psalm, Psalm 13, I think it says “How long, Oh Lord, will you forget me forever? How long will you keep hiding your face? Please answer me.”
Just the desperation there of the feeling when we’re going through painful suffering and trials of “where’s God in all of this?” It took a while for me to understand growth through affliction and that came gradually. There’s several aspects of this. There’s my own, not understanding the difference between commonplace, worry that everyone experiences, and a disorder like anxiety or a real mental health issue.
That was the biggest hurdle for me to get over was to learn. So when I learned that I had OCD and I learned I have panic disorder, I was able to shift over into, “well, maybe this is how God’s answering my prayer.” I was able to see just like if because I do have hypertension, the answer to that, God gave me wasn’t you just miraculously heal my hypertension, it was for me to go on medication, treat my hypertension. And so that helped me to understand that these are very real disorders and to learn about how they develop, why they develop, how they’re genetic. I see that in my family that’s definitely genetic and that it’s not a sin to treat a disorder and affliction and seek professional help for it.
That was something I had to work through, but when you try to talk about it to other Christians, actually, if you don’t know what’s going on, but you know it’s a mental health issue. You may not know, like we’ve talked about how you can have OCD and not know it. So you might be going to a pastor or Christian friend, and you might talk a little bit about your anxiety disorder.
They come at you with what I call “mini-sermons.” They start telling they start quoting you all the verses about anxiety as if you’d never heard them before. It was especially when they know you’re Christian. They know you study the Bible. They know that you followed Christ to the best of your ability.
It’s very condescending because they water it down too. “You just don’t know how to not worry because you don’t trust God.” This is a faith issue. If you had more faith, it’s even gone so far, and this is the one that drives me the most nuts is if you have a mental health issue or anxiety disorder, people will say things to you like you have a theme? That sort of thing. That’s bad. This is awful especially for a person with scrupulosity, religious OCD themes. I mean, that’s horrifying. It just makes it 10 times worse. There’s this lack of knowledge out there when it comes to understanding these disorders.
I really think anxiety disorders are probably the least understood because of Bible verses about worry being equated with an anxiety disorder and they’re not at all the same. And if you’re a sufferer you definitely know the difference, but people who don’t have experience or a loved one who they know and see going through this, they just automatically assume, unfortunately, that this is what it is.
Carrie: Right. It’s hard for pastors and ministry leaders to understand. They don’t necessarily have that type of training or clinical background. And sometimes they’re dipping toes in the water that they need to kind of stay out of and just say, “Definitely we will support you and love you and pray for you but we also want you to get professional help because that’s important and God can use those things in your life. God can use therapy and medication.” These negative experiences that you had with maybe pastors or other people in the church who were well-meaning, let’s say, and trying to help you, did that cause you to want to go public with your story and write a book?
Mizi: Yeah. Yes, it really did. It wasn’t just that though but that was a big part of it. What you just said about they really don’t have the training or the ability to recognize these disorders. Scrupulosity, for instance. If a person is struggling with doubts about their salvation and maybe this pastor has known this person for most of their life and they’re suddenly in their office and they’re going through all these thoughts with them, then the pastor gives them the reassurance from scripture and they’re like, “okay” and then they come back again.
They start saying the same thing over again and even the pastor there’s a level of frustration that can develop and they’re not equipped and they aren’t knowledgeable about OCD and how it manifests itself in a person who’s suffering. So I found that it was really important to share my story about living with anxiety disorders as a Christian and a Christ-follower, but in particular about OCD because it’s so misunderstood. And in particular about scrupulosity OCD because when you go that direction, people are even more inclined to think it’s a spiritual issue even the sufferers themselves really struggle.
They can even know they have OCD and they accepted about all the other kinds of themes and obsessions that they struggle with. For some reason, when it switches over to their relationship to Christ then it’s a spiritual issue. So the book explains why it’s not, and that OCD is OCD no matter what the theme, the treatment approach is the same. If there are things you don’t understand, which is very possible about your walk with God that you can learn through the Bible true, valid, real questions in OCD that can even happen because we’re all at different places in our walk with Christ. [00:37:05] You can still learn that thing, but you don’t have to learn it 50 times. That’s when you know, what’s OCD. It’s like if the answers don’t suffice, if the anxiety isn’t satiated, and laid to rest with answers that are logical reasoned arguments, it’s OCD. Especially if you have OCD, you can pretty much be sure. And so I wanted to lay that all out my own journey because I felt that there’s probably a lot of people with this struggle. If a Christian, a believer, a follower of Christ has OCD, there’s a good chance that it’s going to go that direction and they’re in their life at some point, because OCD always goes after what’s most precious to you.
And for the Christian, their walk with Christ is the most precious thing of their entire existence. So it’s going to go there and I wanted people to understand they weren’t alone, but I also knew there were a lot of people like me who got all the way to 50 or 25 or 30, 40, whatever and didn’t even know that that’s what it was. I thought by sharing my story they could discover that the way I did and, and get directed towards the help they needed and that was important to me. The other aspect of it is the growth in it through that. Before I go there, I did want to add to what you said about ways that the church can support people with these issues, these different kinds of anxiety, all mental health issues as far as that goes.
I think the number one thing they do is listen and then validate the experience as a real affliction not merely a spiritual issue that can be fixed by more prayer, more Bible study, more faith but to literally be willing to support people and say, “Hey, this is a real medical or mental health issue for which you can get help. We want to encourage you towards going to your doctor and starting that process. We want to encourage you that if they say you should see the specialist to go ahead and do that.
We want to encourage you that if they suggest medication might be helpful to you, by all means, please, please do that because it’s so harmful to say things, like it’s a lack of faith and taking medication, means that you aren’t trusting in God and all the things that you can.
And it’s so harmful and I don’t even know how to describe what I’m trying to say. It puts up such a roadblock.
Carrie: It just makes the problem worse.
Mitzi: Yeah and it hurts people. It’s important for churches to be able to be compassionate, pray for the person with a mental health issue, and the same exact way you pray for anybody who has any other type of health issue. Treat them the same, validate instead of turning it into a spiritual issue. I wanted to say that this is what the church needs to do.
Carrie: Yeah. I think that that’s so important and so helpful because we have this ability to rally around people who have just had a baby in the church. We’re really good at that. We can bring you a casserole and we’re really good at rallying around somebody that’s going through cancer or has lost a loved one but then when it comes to something that’s invisible, like an anxiety disorder or OCD, almost like people don’t know what to do with that.
Mitzi: Yes. They either don’t know what to do with it or they’ve kind of bought into the stigma and I’ve tried to kind of sort that out. I don’t know all the reasons people don’t believe in the validity of mental health issues but I suspect that part of the reason might be just a fear of my total health issues because of when I was really young and I was first starting to experience these mental health issues to the point where they were debilitating, all I could think of was I’m going to get locked up in asylum. So there’s these visions and pictures that people have of what it’s like or what people are who are crazy, that sort of thing.
So there’s fear around stigma of what it is to struggle with any kind of mental health issue and it said because there’s so much help out there. There’s so many people in the churches that are sitting in the pews who have mental health issues and you won’t even do that.
Carrie: Absolutely, that’s huge. So as we’re getting towards the end here at the end of every show, I like to ask the guests to share a story of hope since this is called Hope for Anxiety and OCD. So this is the time that you’ve received hope from God or another person.
Mitzi: Okay, there’s lots of stories I could tell. There’s been so many things and I get notes from people all the time about how the book has led to them for the first time discovering this is what’s wrong and finally getting the help they needed. So that’s how God’s used my experience where you comfort one another with the same comfort you yourself have received from God, which has been very humbling to me. For me, I don’t even remember how I knew to read this book, but I picked up a book by a person called John Bunyan that he wrote in 1666 and it’s called “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.” Mr. Bunyan’s story resonated with mine in ways I could not have believed. As I read this book about his experiences, really what he had was OCD scrupulosity. When you read this book, it is just absolutely eye-opening and the struggles that back and forth.
That’s how it debilitated him, how it crippled him, how he would be trying to even preach later on a sermon and the intrusive thoughts would just be blaring in his head and he was so terrified they were going to come out of his mouth right while he was preaching and it just crippled him. He tells this whole thing and it’s so interesting to read because it’s like that’s what it was like for me. At the end of his account, in this book, he says, he admits that this thing was an affliction that God had allowed in his life. It was an affliction. The very next thing he says is God, I’ll use his language, “God Duff order it for my good” and then he gives this list of all the ways God had used this to grow him and his faith. Even his account of how he learned to just accept the uncertainty of the thoughts and to press on in his choice to venture all for the sake of Jesus Christ was ACT basically.
This is amazing. I’m thinking God knew that I was going to read that book. He wrote it in 1666. God knew when I read that book, John Bunyan’s story was going to encourage me and it would show me something. It would show me that this affliction has a purpose. The last chapter of my book, I share the purpose in my own life.
That chapter is called Purposeful Affliction. One of the biggest ways I’ve changed in how I talk about my anxiety disorders and in my OCD in particular, as I used to kind of go along and say, “well, I have OCD, but God can still use me in spite of it.” That’s kind of how I worded it. Now I say, I have OCD and God is able to use me because of it. That’s because of the ways He’s grown me through this experience of affliction. That’s not uncommon. God, Paul talked about it, talked about a storm in the flesh. God said to me, my grace is sufficient for you. My strength is perfected in your weakness.
Paul ends up saying, I’m going to glory in this affliction because of this because when I’m weak, I’m depending on God’s strength and not my own. God uses these things in ways, perseverance, and empathy. The things that I learned through my OCD in particular, in my OCD scrupulosity is just amazing but reading that book that was just literally a godsend. And you think about it, they didn’t even know what OCD was back then, but God laid it on John Bunyan’s heart to write about it and so 1666, 150 years old. Here we are and I’m like reading this book and I’m like, “this is amazing.”
It just shows that OCD has been around for a really long time. It’s not a new thing. It’s just that we now understand you know what it is and there’s help and there’s hope, and everyone who is struggling with this, I just want them to have the chance to understand what it is and how to get help especially for my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Carrie: Right. Your story and what you’re doing and just being vocal and open about being a very strong Christian who has also had a struggle in an affliction, I think it’s so hopeful to other people. Hopefully, who will hear this podcast, but what we’re talking about with church leaders that such my passion and desire is that people would just get however they get it, whether they’re getting it through listening to a podcast or reading your blog or talking to somebody with a personal struggle. I just want people to be able to sit with people in pain and say, “We’re here for you.”
Mitzi: Yes. It’s so huge. It is so important and it’s important to understand that it’s painful. Like you called it invisible and it is. I would still get up every day, go through the motions like a robot. Sometimes I would fix my hair. I would put on my makeup. It was difficult to go out when I was really, really sick, but I still did it. I would sit in church and be tortured because of my OCD, but I would sit there and sometimes I’d want to run out, but you can’t see it. It is really debilitating.
The only way you could see it on me was I would get really skinny. I would get quieter. I would withdraw. I probably didn’t smile and laugh much. Those kinds of things but it’s very painful. For me definitely has been the thing that caused the most pain in my life and the most long-lasting because it can just hang on and hang on. I went through one whole pregnancy with it and then in between, and then another whole pregnancy. I still had the same thing going on. That’s how long it can hang up.
Carrie: If people want to dive in and read your whole story, will you tell us the name of the book? I will put a link to it in the show notes as well.
Mitzi: Sure. The name of the book is “Strivings Within-The OCD Christian” and you can find it on Amazon. If you just write that in and even my name, you can look at my name, it’s VAnCleve. That’s the main book I have out there. I do have another book. We’ve talked about as far as OCD today necessarily, but it’s a direction, another direction up and going, and it’s a fictional book with a little bit of my experience mixed in as a teen. That was about what it was like to have social anxiety and it’s written in a fictional form and that one’s called, “That’s in Your Dreams. That’s the name of that one. That’s all also on Amazon, but it’s kind of a nice book for teens who struggle with that type of anxiety, social anxiety. It might be relatable to them in a story form. It’s just a story about a girl trying to go to high school and trying to fit in, be normal and the social anxiety is always shoving her back down. And so I want to try to work on those kinds of things too for teens, but I haven’t been very dedicated with that.
Carrie: Thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story.
Mitzi: Thank you, Carrie. I appreciate the opportunity, anytime. I can share not because of what it does for me, but what I hope it might do for someone else who’s looking for answers, looking for hope, looking for someone who can relate to what they’re going through. And also like you said, for the church and for pastors and people in leadership positions to understand better what these disorders are, what they’re like, and how they can help. So thank you.
Carrie: Ever since I did this interview with Mitzi, I have been really pondering this idea of growth through affliction in our lives. I hope that you chew on that one for a little bit too because there are so many different things that God uses that are hard to go through and yet they grow us closer to him. They grow us closer to other people and they shape our character in ways that we might never have received had we not gone through those difficulties.
I hope that this podcast has encouraged you. If it has, will you do me a big favor and tell a friend. There’s probably someone in your circle of influence who needs messages that will help them reduce shame and increase hope and that’s what we’re all about on the show. Thank you so much for taking the time to listen today.
Hope for Anxiety and OCD is a production of By The Well Counseling in Smyrna, Tennessee. Our original music is by Brandon Mangrum and audio editing completed by Benjamin Bynam. Until next time. May you be comforted by God’s great love for you.